BY TINASHE KAIRIZA
STATE-OWNED arms manufacturing company, the Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), remains under the tight grip of European Union (EU) sanctions due to the reported role of security forces in alleged human rights violations, the bloc disclosed to the Zimbabwe Independent this week.
ZDI was slapped with sanctions by the EU in 2001 together with the late former president Robert Mugabe and key figures in the ruling Zanu PF party when the country plunged into an abyss of violence.
Over the years, while the bloc has gradually eased its restrictive measures on some targeted political leaders, it has tightened its punitive stance on ZDI.
The EU Delegation in Zimbabwe this week said ZDI has over the decades remained under the sanctions due to documented human rights “transgressions”.
In the aftermath of the 2018 elections which were narrowly won by President Emmerson Mnangagwa, security forces were involved in bloody clashes with civilians who were protesting against perceived delays by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to announce poll results.
This was barely a year after Mugabe had been toppled through a military coup and replaced with Mnangagwa in November 2017. “The arms embargo and the targeted assets freeze against one company, Zimbabwe Defence Industries, remain in place taking into account the situation in Zimbabwe, the role of security forces in human rights abuses as well as the continuing need to investigate past transgressions,” the EU Delegation revealed to the Independent.
“The EU will continue to closely follow developments, with a particular attention to the human rights situation, and recall its readiness to review and adapt the whole range of its policies accordingly.”
Apart from sanctions on the arms manufacturer, the bloc also expressed its concern over the systematic deployment of “lawfare” by the government against opposition supporters.
The EU emphasised that a range of new laws, which it deems constitutes a war against the opposition and civil society through the courts, threatened to shrink Zimbabwe’s democratic space amid efforts by the government to reset frosty relations with the West.
“We are following the situation in Zimbabwe in terms of respect for human rights, and the 27 Member States assessed recently that it has not improved,” the EU Delegation said.
“Intimidation of political opposition and other government critics has continued to restrict the democratic and civic space, which is under threat of shrinking further, through the Data Protection Act and on-going legislative processes such as the Private Voluntary Organisations Amendment Bill and the envisaged so-called ‘Patriotic Act’.
“The EU is concerned about these developments and perpetrators of human rights violations should be swiftly brought to justice.”
The bloc also expressed concern over reports by the civil society that Zec’s conduct in discharging its mandate was questionable.
“Zec is the formal institution in charge of elections and, as such, responsible for delivering according to its mandate. One of the key recommendations of the European Observer Mission (EOM) of 2018 related to the independence of the Commission. Several questions have now arisen related to the management of the voters’ roll,” it said.
“Zec needs to make an effort to respond to queries made in the interest of credibility. Transparency is of the essence. Some organisations, such as Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), have called for an independent audit of the voters’ roll.
“We would welcome any measure, such as the audit, that reinforces the transparency and building of trust,” the EU Delegation added.
Zimbabwe will on March 26 hold by-elections whose build-up has been characterised by violence, which has since resulted in the death of one person, who was attending a Citizens Coalition for Change rally in Kwekwe at the weekend.
“We have noted with serious concern the recent escalation of political violence and we call for an immediate end to it in order for Zimbabwe to progress towards free, fair and peaceful by-elections. A level playing field for campaigning has to be guaranteed and everyone should be able to exercise her or his rights due to all citizens in a democracy without fear,” the EU Delegation said.
“All parties should explicitly condemn political violence and refrain from inflammatory rhetoric. Those who are responsible for violence should be brought to justice.
“The EU expresses its sincere condolences for the loss of life and wishes a speedy recovery to victims.”
The political violence currently obtaining in Zimbabwe dents efforts by Mnangagwa to mend relations with the West.